As the Shad Go, So Goes the Shadblow

At long last the icy grip of winter 2015 lost its purchase.  As much as Spring was delayed, it ultimately could not be denied.  Birds arrived, green shoots squeezed from the cool soil and buds swelled until the building organic pressure exploded with such force that it seemed to whipsaw the jet stream.  An unseasonable warm front overran the region and for much of the past week heat and humidity took hold and drove inland temps close to the 90-degree mark.  But not here at the coast.  That great thermal mass known as the Atlantic takes its time warming up, and, while in-landers were flipping the thermostat from heat to chill, we were 20-degrees cooler and shrouded in a fog as thick as Chef’s chowder.  Such is the case when that first hot, humid air of the season meets 50-degree ocean waters. 

And then overnight blustery winds introduced a new front and today bright sun, mild breezes and a cerulean sky are the order of the day.  Perfect timing because a lovely wild shrub known as the Shadblow is just coming into bloom.  Shadblow is so named because it blooms about the time shad run up the rivers.

American Shad (related to herring) are anadromous fish meaning they spend most of their life in the ocean, but swim up stream in the spring to lay eggs in freshwater rivers and ponds.  As with so many fish, dam building during the industrial revolution cut off passage to breeding grounds and greatly reduced their populations. 

In colonial times shad were an important food fish, but in modern days it is just a niche market.  This time of year local fish markets will sell shad and shad roe – the eggs of the gravid female for which one must acquire a taste – and many littoral inhabitants will observe a once-a-year practice of having a shad dinner.  Shad are fun to catch on light tackle, but they are full of bones; it pays to buy from a good fish market where they know how to filet them.

Anyway, back to the shrub.  The shadblow is a multi-trunked tree that grows up to about twenty-five feet high.  Their twisting trunks take on free-form shapes and support a canopy of lacy branches that are now covered in delicate white flowers.  We’ve already covered the “shad” portion of the name; the “blow” part comes from flowered limbs blowing to and fro in the spring breezes, and then six or eight days later the spent blossoms breaking free and fluttering in the wind.

Being a week or two behind inland areas, in terms of spring foliage, we see the shad blooms against a backdrop of soft green emerging leaves and red buds.  There are certainly showier blooms along local lanes, including ornamental cherries and forsythia, but nothing is so timely and classic as the native shadblow.